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Auto review: Affordable Hornet GT brings Dodge sting to compact SUVs

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina — You know it as soon as you grip the steering wheel on the Dodge Hornet. This SUV wants to play.

Direct, weighted and rooted to the road, Hornet’s steering was a carving tool in my hands as I rushed the twisties up the Blue Ridge Parkway southeast of Asheville. The scenery was stunning, but the compact SUV offered no time to drink it in as I surged from corner to corner with 295-pound-feet of torque on offer to my lead right foot. Oh joy, another affordable hot hatch has joined the SUV segment.

As readers of this column know, the Mazda CX-5/CX-50 Turbo is my favorite mainstream compact SUV with its standard all-wheel drive, sharp handling, terrific torque and attainable pricing. It’s been a segment of one. Until now.

For just $31,590 — a whopping $6,500 less than the CX-5 Turbo — the AWD 295-torque, 2.0-liter turbo-4-powered Hornet GT (yes, GT is the entry-level model) nearly matches the Mazda’s 310-pound feet of torque while besting it in horsepower, 268 to 253. I’m not making this up.

Hornet marks the return of a storied badge that dates to the beloved 1951 Hudson Hornet — and of Dodge to the compact SUV segment for the first time since the unloved 2012 Caliber. But this is a different Dodge. Where Caliber was a cheap version of the Jeep Compass, Hornet shares a platform with the Alfa Romeo Tonale, for goodness' sake. The new ute’s playfulness took some of the sadness away from the death-by-government-regulation this week of the Challenger — the Hornet’s performance godfather — as Dodge announced the V-8 era’s end with a 1,025-horsepower SRT Demon 170.

The Hornet GT and CX-5 Turbo play in the huge, multi-million-sales volume, compact-SUV segment, but what makes them special is they boast luxury-level performance at mainstream prices.


And if it’s luxury-level prices you want, the Hornet offers a top-trim 288-horse, 386-torque R/T monster for a BMW X1-like $41,590 sticker. Load the blood-red Hornet R/T I also tested with Blacktop, Tech and Track packages and it’ll cost you $52,405. That is (ahem) $9,000 more than a V8-powered Dodge Charger R/T, and over three grand more than the most expensive $49,195 BMW X1 offered. I’m still not making this up.

Welcome to the electrified era and its shocking price inflation.

And its cool new features. The 15.5-kWh battery under the rear seat is largely responsible for the R/T’s 10 grand premium over the standard GT. And largely responsible for the R/T’s expanded tool kit. Expect similar goodies from the Alfa Tonale, which comes out of the same Naples, Italy plant and will cost Lord knows what.

Buzzing through the spaghetti curves of Route 276 behind traffic, I get a brief dotted line along a straight stretch. Alert PowerShot, an over-boost feature like Grin Shift found on Hyundai N hellions. I armed the system with SPORT mode, pulled back on the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles, then floored the throttle.


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